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Outsourcing Legal Information

I tend to live in the future. I think about what it will be like when I’ve paid off all my debts, how I’m going to celebrate a significant event coming up next year, and what my next job will look like. So last December, when the legal outsourcing firm Integreon announced the first “Shared Information Service”, or outsourced law library services, I was very intrigued. At the time, I remember thinking, “how are they going to do this?” I can understand outsourcing research (be it legal, business development or competitive intelligence), but how do you outsource the physical library itself? Would they be circulating texts among their clients, like our courthouse and academic law libraries do? If so, how would you determine how many copies of each item you would need to have? How would you share resources?

So I was happy to come across this report from @woodsiegirl (Laura – an information assistant at a London law firm) from the 2010 BIALL conference. This session, entitled Emerging alternative models for managing information resources in law firms, sounded like it would be informative. However, instead it was more like a sales pitch. It even ran over its alloted time, which didn’t allow for the probing questions that could have provided the answers conference attendees were looking for.

What really interested me was how Integreon stressed that this was a great opportunity for law librarians. One firm had its entire library staff become Integreon employees. They emphasized that there was much more meaningful work because there were more clients, which I took to mean more research, analysis and report writing and less administration. There wasn’t much discussion about sharing physical resources, so I still don’t have an answer for that. In fact, they mentioned that under some circumstances, like a need for extreme confidentiality, some firms would choose to keep some work in house. But if you’ve got rid of your staff, who does it?

I’m also interested in the back story – how did staff feel suddenly working for Integreon instead of their firm? How do you change your feelings of loyalty, when unexpectedly you’re working for the competition? What about the knowledge these employees took from their firm, like which lawyers likes to receive their information in print form, who prefers “just the facts”, and who wants an indepth analysis. I realize I have far more questions than answers.

Laura’s position is that outsourcing library services is not a good idea, although she does admit she is biased. I don’t think I have enough information to take a position just yet. I can see the value of outsourcing if it’s a service you otherwise wouldn’t have. If you’re a large firm though, I would think having an in-house library is essential, and if your firm doesn’t believe it is, maybe the library director needs to do a better selling job. I know, I know, pretty simplistic. There are so many factors driving business decisions, and even when two organizations arrive at the same solution, their reasons for it can be diametrically opposed.

I believe that there are independent law library consultants here in Canada, although I’m not sure what services they provide. I think there could be value providing collection development advice, particularly to smaller firms who get all of their information from the legal publishers. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but vendors do have particular products to sell and an independent consultant could offer neutrality. Offering legal research training would be another niche, as well as current awareness. Subscription management is already offered by some firms. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who does provide any of these services now.

And if there’s any more commentary about Integreon’s new service that I just haven’t found, please feel free to add it in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the pointer to the presentation, Karen. I think these services may be more common than we realize. Perhaps it’s just that the outsourcing has started out as cherry picking: law firms outsourcing their library filing, etc. It’s not hard to see a business model where this service is broadened. I’ve known individual librarians who have contracted with multiple firms to deliver library support where none of the law firms were large enough for a full-time librarian.

    I think the law library world is ideally suited for library outsourcing. Most firms do not have a librarian, so an outsourcing company might enable them to access skills they haven’t had available before if outsourcing can create economy of scale. It also allows any size firm to scale their library up and down without having to staff up themselves. Staff cuts and collection cuts (especially print) can play havoc with service delivery, so perhaps this is a way to flatten those fluctuations.

    Lawyers don’t spend a lot of time researching, as a percentage of their practice. The 2009 ABA Legal Technology survey found the mean response for lawyers doing their own legal research was about 21%, and that was pretty consistent whether a solo or at a 100+ firm. It was higher than the frequency with which lawyers asked law librarians to regularly do research. If that’s the case, then outsourcing would seem to be suited to picking up this portion of both law firm function and overhead.

    What if Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis took on law library outsourcing? Then they could do collection development at the same time!

  2. Interesting post, Karen. There’s absolutely a market for small and medium sized firms to employ an independent library consultant. I’ve made my living on it! I’ve found that lawyers and office managers of these firms are grateful for expertise in selecting resources, and ensuring that the firm gets value for cost. Frequently, firms have a room they call the Library, but as we know, until someone makes sense of it, it’s really just a room full of books.